Generous Disagreement

Written by Corey Magstadt : December 21, 2007

There is a fascinating series of articles in the Christian Science Monitor about “Latin America’s New Gospel”. It is an in depth look at the Pentecostal movement in Latin America with the first article focusing on the prosperity teachings of the Pentecostal churches.

I’m finding this to be a complex issue. On the one hand, I strongly disagree with the abhorrent teaching that God is going to reward the poor who throw their money to these extravagantly wealthy churches with material blessings. On the other hand, these churches are also helping people start business with training and micro-loans, giving the possibility for raising their economic status and ending the cycle of poverty.

While there is a lot that could be said about the economics involved in these stories, I’ll leave those discussions to others on Jesus Manifesto with more expertise. Instead, I want to focus on the way in which we disagree with one another. So much of the time (and blogs are the worst at this) when we disagree with a theological position or the way that someone practices their faith, we immediately disparage the person and refuse to listen to anything else they have to say. In doing so, we miss the great good that comes from and through those that I might sharply critique.

It would be very easy for me to disregard the entire Pentecostal prosperity gospel movement because I strongly disagree with their theology. It would be very easy for me to disregard radical Calvinists for the same reason. Many people would do the same with emerging churches.

The problem with this perspective is obvious. The only people that we will listen to are the people we already agree with. At this point, there is no prophetic voice speaking into our lives/churches/movements. We will stagnate. We lose the tension and the joy that comes with seeing issues differently and still loving one another fully. And in the end, we become less than we could have been had we been willing to listen.

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3 Responses to “Generous Disagreement”

  1. Dustin on December 21st, 2007 8:22 am

    While I understand your underlying premise, I am not sure it is completely out of willful resistance that conversations and dialog are very rarely fruitful. Rather, most of the disagreements come about and confront some of the core realities of who we are and what we believe. For instance, if I were to challenge the notion of the capriciousness of God found in a Calvinist position, much of my argument may stem from my own presupposition regarding scripture. Thus, we are immediately at an impasse because the two parties to the discussion, at the core of who they are and what they think, really are in disagreement about almost everything.

    One thing I’ve really begun to learn is that maybe, instead of talking about what we disagree about, we should simply begin where we agree. If it is about the unnecessary plight of the poor and the need for the Church to keep its God-given responsibility, then we should begin there.

  2. Mark Van Steenwyk on December 21st, 2007 9:01 am

    I think it is a matter of attitude. Sure, if we focus only on what we agree about, things will go smoothly…but only for a while. Those differences find a way of coming out. And it is what we do with them that determines whether or not we can work together.

    For example, I put “peace” in the middle of my understanding of the Gospel. It shapes everything. So much so that I tend to dismiss the standard penal substitutionary view of the atonement for other views.

    Some folks–especially the very Calvinist sort–won’t really put up with me at all. But most will, because they know me and respect me enough to patiently engage me.

    On the flip side, I have tried to put up with militant Christians. The sort that wear American flags and adamantly support the war on Terror. I can love and respect these brothers and sisters enough to engage them because I used to think like them. But it is hard.

    This unity comes through relationship. We rejoice in common commitments, but without ignoring disagreements. And the thing that makes it possible is a choice to bear with it–to not reject someone, to try to form a relationship.

    And this is where many fundamentalists (of whatever stripe–conservative, liberal, etc) fall. They are unwilling to form relationships with the enemy. And so, liberal fundamentalists refuse to support conservatives who think homosexuality is a sin. And conservative fundamentalists refuse to treat you with respect and gentleness if they think you are a heretic.

    But I know PROFOUNDLY liberal people who are able to be hospitable to the reddest of rednecks. And I know extremely conservative people who are able to be generous with the most leftward of liberals.

  3. Sebastián N. on December 22nd, 2007 8:52 pm

    That’s familiar to me as I’m colombian, born catholic, but at the age of 8 my mother (and then my father and the rest of us) started assisting to evangelical curches (not pentecostal, but in the catholic Latinamerica they’re almost the same).

    Well, in this catholic context some people has found in evangelical-pentecostal-etc, etc, etc churches a closer relation to God they did’nt find in the traditional catholic church (remember it: here is totally opposite than in USA. There, the main christian way is evangelism-calvinism. Here the tradition is catholicism). But, many so-called evengelical churches at last have resulted being businness according to this “prosperity gospel”, and sometimes with VERY blasphemous theories (like a puertorican guy who says to be the messiah, and ordered to his followers tatoo the “666″ as a signal for them to be “rescued”).

    Blessings to all of you

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